This was my mindset when I woke up at 3 a.m. I was going to finish 2 presentations, write a newspaper article and then enjoy some down time.
So, it is was great sadness that ran through me when I peeked at the Lancaster Sunday News, only to find an editorial from County Commissioner Craig Lehman. What he wrote (viewable here) was a view into the frustration that has become public libraries in Lancaster County. Basically, it has become so contemptuous that everyone is ready to throw in the towel.
There are a few questions that remain unanswered from the Commissioners. First, if the System is gone or is a shell of its current incarnation, who is responsible for distributing State Aid and who decides how it is distributed? How do you set prices on service - like book cataloging? I agree with Commissioner Lehman that the System is broken. At some point in the past, leaders now long gone made the decision that the System would be try to imitate other systems throughout the state. The problem is that some systems are consolidated and some are federated. We are a federated System and are each governed by independent boards and the System has no real authority over what our libraries do. And many of us like that. Others are in the same position that Commissioner Lehman evidently is - ready to close the doors and turn out the lights. (Not literally.)
Commissioner Lehman has some very good points, but there are many missing pieces if the System is restructured. First, we need a leader who understands that it is our patrons who are suffering. I constantly cite "exceptional customer service" as one of the things we need to achieve. There is lip service to this idea but libraries, being such a gentle institution, have a hard time booting incompetent employees out the door. Just because you can recite the Dewey Decimal System in your sleep doesn't mean you are good with people. We need a leader on the system level who shares the common goals of member libraries throughout Lancaster County.
We also need a System Board who respects and listens to library directors and boards. Some work is needed on that front. I'm not saying anymore.
And finally, it is clear that the public debate needs to change. Libraries should not be in the paper weekly, or daily, with negative stories about internal conflict and skewed data. It's easy to blame the newspaper, or one particular person for this fiasco, but that's the coward's way. It is not the fault of the newspaper. We are not being falsely accused of anything. While they don't understand the complexities of library funding - and should really do their research - most of the information is factual. We should really demand more of our media outlets, but that's the way it is.
Public libraries should be apple pie and baseball. We are an American institution. We provide access to those who need it most. We are a reflection of our communities. We are a living example of democracy. We protect privacy and advocate for the free exchange of ideas. We are freedom fighters.
We need to remember this. Is change needed? Absolutely! Can we do it? I don't know.